GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – An imam who wanted to impose Islamic law in the Gaza Strip was killed Saturday in an explosion at one of his hide-outs, ending a two-day battle between his armed followers and Hamas government forces that left 27 other people dead.
The security crackdown could allow Hamas, which has tried to court favor with the West, to position itself as a moderate Islamic bulwark against militant forces inspired by al-Qaida.
But the challenge by the imam, Abdel-Latif Moussa, also pointed to splits among Hamas’ followers. Residents of the southern city of Rafah, where the clash occurred, said several former Hamas militants were killed while fighting for the imam’s group, the Soldiers of the Companions of God.
Moussa provoked the clash Friday by announcing a campaign to impose religious law by force of arms. He made the declaration during a midday sermon in Rafah surrounded by black-clad gunmen who then holed up with him in a mosque and fought off Hamas security forces who besieged the building.
The rebels eventually abandoned the mosque through an underground tunnel and continued the fight from nearby homes.